Review: NASCAR 2011: The Game (Xbox 360)

NASCAR 2011: The Game
Developer: Eutechnyx
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Racing
Released: 03/29/11

Waaay back in 2005(!) I did a review of NASCAR 2006: Total Team Control for what was then Inside Pulse Games. That was my last experience with a NASCAR licenced game (unless you count my review of Cars: The Game, which featured some NASCAR stuff but was not a real simulation based on the series. Oh and Gran Turismo 5, but lets not talk about that here.) Anyway, it seems I wasn’t alone in not playing NASCAR games, as EA eventually decided the series was not worth the time and money to continue it. The license languished for a time until finally Activision chose to bring it back to life. NASCAR 2011: The Game is the result of that choice, and I’m going to review it for you.

Modes:

NASCAR 2011: The Game (non HHH variety) features a number of single player modes, including a Career mode which is the meat and potatoes of the game. You can start your own Career or play the game using a per-existing driver and go through the “Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup” season mode. You can also play the Race Now mode, which is as you might expect, a single race of your choosing with settings of your choosing. Next we have the Invitational Events, which you unlock by levelling up your driver. Invitational consists of Legend Challenge (where you have to race against legendary NASCAR drivers of the past), Gauntlet, Solo Thunder and Championship Showdown events.

Next you can test your car setup on the various courses included in the game in Track Testing mode, and finally you can run practice laps with your driver and car. In fact you can build your own car, throw numerous decals on it and head out on the track that way.

Last but definitely not least, we come to Eliminator mode. This game type has been added to the standard race mode, and I must say that I found it to be very intense and entertaining. It’s probably the most entertaining mode in the game. There is nothing fancy about it. There is nothing you haven’t seen in Burnout or various other racing games. It’s your standard Eliminator mode. However, something happens when you take those ingredients and add them to NASCAR. The game becomes much more dramatic, as even one small mistake can cost you the race.

Graphics:

I’ll say this much for the folks over at Eutechnyx, they sure know how to make a pretty menu. The rest of the game is certainly good enough looking to do the job but the menus are excellent.

The cars are well modelled, all of the logos look like they should, or at least they appear to. I hope NASCAR or Activision proper did all the licensing for them because someone’s lawyers made a lot of money getting all of those corporate logos into the game. The character models for the drivers are passable, they seem to look like their photo’s suggest they should at any rate.

The race tracks look quite nice. The same problem that EA’s developers encountered back in 2005 still exists for today’s developers – you don’t get to see much outside of the race track. Thanks to clever use of a Television style presentation to start each race as well as light effects and modeling things like Air Force fly overs or mobile homes parked on the race track interior, the game world feels very much alive. OK, perhaps not alive, but at least much more lifelike.

There are a number of camera options, including two separate ones for inside the car. Also included are the standard chase camera, the hood camera and the bumper camera.

Audio:

The sound effects are a little bit underwhelming. I don’t quite know why that is, but when roaring around the track, it felt less visceral than it should. I tried it from many different camera perspectives, as often developers will change the audio based on where you are viewing the game, and sure enough they’ve done it too. The interior of the car sounds different from the exterior shot, but despite all of that it still seems lacking. I suspect it’s due to my recent experiences with other racing games that sound so lifelike that makes this one sound good but not great by comparison

Dialogue consists of the announcers at the beginning of each race and then your crew chief who speaks to you from time to time during the race. Actually let me rephrase that. Your crew chief never shuts up, and you quickly learn that he only has so many things to say. There is the odd line thrown in to make you chuckle but after the third race you’ve heard everything numerous times. Add to that the fact that what the crew chief is saying is not always correct. For example the chief will tell you you’re all clear on either side of your car, then you blink, and next thing you know you’ve gone down a position.

There is not a whole lot of music in this game. I think I counted four tracks. Now granted one of them was La Grange by ZZ Top, which is awesome, but the awesomeness of the music falls off dramatically after that.

Gameplay/Controls:

NASCAR machines are not the most nimble machines, if my videogame experience is anything to go by. In truth, they control like barges once you get them up to speed. So it’s a good thing that you really only have to turn left in most of the 36 races you will encounter during your Sprint to the Cup.

The intention of developers worldwide to make every game an RPG has reached NASCAR, it would seem. By completing objectives based on a system called (NXP), the player will level up his driver, enabling access to more and more invitation only races, as well as numerous pins and car skins which would enable the gamer to use their own uniquely designed car online. So doing something like drafting behind a car for a length of time will earn you XP. Getting into the Top Ten, Top Five, getting into first place, that sort of thing. How you place will also earn you XP, and if you happen to win, you are given the chance to do a victory burnout that has become popular in recent years. If you can pull that off, you will earn more XP.

One huge addition for which I am eternally grateful is completely unrealistic, but I don’t care. That would be a rewind function that can be activated in the event of a calamity that saved me on more than one occasion from throwing my controller into my television due to frustration. There is nothing more annoying than being crashed into from behind and getting completely taken out of the race. Now thanks to this Prince of Persia inspired function that can all be avoided. You only get a limited number of rewinds per race, and the longer the race is the more valuable they become, but don’t crash and they won’t be needed.

Replayability:

So up until now I’d say my experience with the game has been relatively positive. I hadn’t run into any horrible problems, the game appeared to be a decent take on NASCAR. There is, in fact, much enjoyment to be had from all of the various single player options available to you. The unlockable challenges, the basic race for the cup itself and the eliminator mode are all pretty good at worst.

Then I tried multiplayer, and never before or since, have I had a worse experience when connected to Xbox Live. For the first four days I had the game, my system would freeze as soon as I launched into the game, requiring a hard reboot of my system. Faithfully I would try to connect, only to have my hopes dashed. Finally at long last I was able to join a race…which I somehow won after a lap because everyone else had dropped. Odd, I thought, so I decided to join another race. Stunningly, I succeeded in joining it, only to find it full of idiots running laps backwards trying to ram into anyone they saw. So after about three laps of that I decided I liked the multiplayer better when I couldn’t connect. Still, because I care about you people so much I decided I had to go back in and give it another shot. So I did, and the game promptly went back to crashing as soon as the race started. Now perhaps you’ll have better luck than I, but I think one “successful” race in five nights does not make for an acceptable online component.

The game does include a split screen multiplayer option for you and a friend to play on the one screen, and this is handled pretty well.

Balance:

There are a large number of options that the developers have included to let you determine just how much assistance you will have when you are wrangling your race car around the track. This includes how dumb the AI is, how much the car will brake for you, just how many laps you are expected to run, these sorts of things. Naturally the less help the game gives you, the harder it is to drive.

Originality:

I love the not being able to connect to multiplayer, that’s original. I think the rest of the game is trying to be Call of Duty with it’s experience farming and pin awarding, and since that’s an unplayable mess in multiplayer also, I’d say they succeeded, but it’s not very original, as obviously CoD did it too.

I will give the game some credit for originality. It includes a photography function, which allows you at any time during a single player race to hit pause and take a photo of whatever you see at the time. The camera is fully controllable and includes many options you might find on a DSLR camera, like changing the f-stops and your depth of field, how much colour to include, etc. I found it quite a nice distraction and often had to force myself to go back to the racing, if only to get to a new part of the track to see how neat it looked there. Trust me, during those long races it’s nice to have something to distract you for a bit. I just wish there was a way to post those photos online, as I think the world deserves to see my prowess in Photography.

Addictiveness:

If you stick to the single player the game can offer you some tense moments as well as some bursts of adrenaline, but I can’t sit here and say I was unable to pull myself away from the game.

Appeal:

If you like NASCAR, then this is the only game in town, as Activision now hold the rights to the franchise. I suppose you could keep playing the last EA version, but if you want all of the current drivers and car sponsors then this is your only bet.

If you don’t like NASCAR, well, I’m not really sure what there is here to appeal to you. It’s a pretty niche game.

Miscellaneous:

While I enjoyed driving on the typical Oval courses in the game, the two road courses are awful and I had no desire to play them. Unfortunately, while the developers included an option to retire from a race it does not count as a DNF, instead it just kicks you back to the menu where you have no other option but to finish the race if you want to progress in the season.

Sadly that retire feature also applies to the online, as I retired from competitive online racing with a winning percentage of 100 despite dropping out of a game. Yet another reason the online is a horrible mess.

The Scores:
Modes: Good
Graphics: Incredible
Audio: Decent
Gameplay/Controls: Good
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Very Bad

Final Score: Decent Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

The terrible online functionality really kills this game. The single player portion is at worst enjoyable and deserves a much better fate. Maybe next year?

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